View from the harbor toward the Luna Convento

Amalfi was, in the middle ages, capital of the Amalfi Maritime Republic and one of the richest towns in Italy. The Republic was a major naval power in the 11th and 12th century and challenged Genoa and Pisa for control over the Mediterranean.

Today, Amalfi is not so much an attraction as it is a focal point for the attractions of the Amalfi Coast.

The rugged Sorrentine peninsula juts out into the Mediterranean separating the Bay of Naples on the north from the Bay of Salerno on the south. The Costeria Amalfitana, or Amalfi Coast, is the southern shore of this peninsula.

Amalfi lies near the mid-point of the drive along the Amalfi coast from Salerno on the mainland to the peninsula's tip. (It's another story, but the Isle of Capri lies just off the tip of the peninsula.) The drive along the coast is spectacular as the road winds in and out of the rugged cliffs that rise from the sea to the Laterrari mountains. Sometimes almost at the water's edge, sometimes high above it, the road clings to the mountains, often cantilevered out from the cliff face above the waters below.

The drive can be thrilling as well as visually spectacular with the narrow road, sharp blind curves, and heavy traffic - including large numbers of tour busses from all over Europe. At almost every outside bend there is a wide-angle mirror to provide some visibility - necessary because the road is so narrow and the turn so sharp that it is literally impossible for two vehicles to pass, especially if one is a bus! Alert drivers listen to hear the bus drivers sounding their horns as they approach the turns.

Duomo di Sant' Andrea

Amalfi today is a small town of only about 5,500 inhabitants climbing up the steep hillside from the sea. There is a small harbor and marina protected by a sea wall. The main coastal highway, the S163 runs along the waterfront, descending from the Luna Convento Hotel on the point, passes the Piazza Flavio Gioia at the harbor, then turns sharply to disappear into a short tunnel under a jumble of buildings before reappearing up on the hillside below the Cappucin Convent.

Across the street from the harbor, through a pedestrian passage, the street ascends to a pleasant square, the Piazza Duomo, overlooked by the Duomo di Sant' Andrea, a ninth century cathedral. The square is lined with a mixture of sidewalk restaurants, souvenir shops, and the food markets and clothing shops providing the necessities to local residents.

It is possible to visit both the Luna Convento and Cappucin Convent. The Luna Convento was built as a convent in the 13th century and became one of the first hotels on the Amalfi Coast in the 19th. The Cappucin Convent was originally built by the Cistercian order in the 13th century. It was later abandoned, then taken over by the Cappucins in the 1580s. It has also been converted into a hotel.

Nearby village of Ravello

Other worthwhile sights to see from Amalfi are Positano, a fishing village and resort/tourist attraction further west along the coast, and Ravello, a small village on the mountain high 1500 feet above the sea. On a clear day, one can see stunning views of the Bay of Salerno from the "Belvedere of Infinity" in the extensive gardens of the Villa Cimbrone, a ten minute walk from Ravello.

Frequent tour boats ply the water between Amalfi and Positano, although the drive along the coast would be spectacular as well. Ravello is a six km drive, and frequent busses make the village accessible to those without wheels of their own.

Positano, a short boat ride away

Amalfi is about 290 KM (180 miles) from Rome and 30 km (19 miles) from Salerno. From Rome, follow the E45 south from Rome past Naples almost to Salerno, then take the S163 at the Vietri Sul Mare exit just before Salerno. Be prepared for a scenic but challenging last 20 miles.

If traveling by rail, there are several busses each day from Salerno. If you are staying in Sorrento or Positano, there are frequent tour boat connections to Amalfi.

When leaving Amalfi, you may choose, as we did, not to backtrack along the coast to Salerno, but to strike out up and over the Lattari range to Castellamare di Stabia via Agerola. It shortens the trip back toward Rome and isn't quite so hair raising as the drive along the S163. Get a good detailed map, or ask a local for directions.


Copyright 2004 Harry B. Rowe